I don’t think there are many people who would disagree with the statement that internet search engines have added value to our lives in one way or another. This technology has completely re-designed how people find information and locate what they need when they need it. No more phonebooks (remember those!?), no more folding maps from the gas station spilling out of your glove box in the car, and no more Encyclopedia Britannica subscriptions! No one is likely happier about that last one than Joey from Friends (https://tinyurl.com/3ssfuccc). These “old-fashioned” ways of obtaining information have been replaced by something shinier and way more convenient!
Despite this tech innovation changing how fast people can acquire information and breaking down knowledge sharing barriers, we have undoubtedly all experienced internet searches that have led us in the wrong direction, sometimes unknowingly. For this reason, we learn that choosing search words carefully does matter if we expect to get quality results. The necessity to be thoughtful about what we plunk into the search bar has never been greater than right now because we have likely all fallen victim at some point or another to fully relying upon a search engine answer without thinking much about how the algorithm actually came up with the results. With almost as many websites as there are people on earth, it has become more difficult to determine which of the hundreds or even thousands of websites available on a specific topic are credible at face value. Research indicates that 93% of all global traffic comes from Google search, Google Images, and Google Maps (BrightEdge, Sparktoro), suffice it to say, they possess a remarkable amount of power when it comes to influencing our thinking and decision-making.
There are lots of topics we might search on Google where the results produced really are harmless. For instance, I may search “find the best leek and potato soup recipe”. Whatever result I decide to move forward with and make for dinner is not likely to cause any sort of lasting damage to anyone if you try it and determine it certainly is not the best leek and potato soup you’ve tried (at least I hope not).
But there are other kinds of information we search for where the stakes can be much higher if we aren't careful - like the wellbeing of our brand-new puppy.
Let's say I just got a new puppy and I type into Google “dog obedience classes near me”. The very first link that comes up on page 1 that is not a Google Ad contains a list of the supposed best dog training schools in Calgary. Let's also presume I am not a person who is immersed in the dog training industry and my knowledge is limited to that of the average person. I do not realize that the decision I make here will have a fundamental impact on the relationship I’ll form with my dog and heavily influence the development of their personality. So I rely on the information presented by this webpage, because I assume that it is accurate and supported by facts. I use this information to decide where to take my puppy for classes.
Let’s not be fooled into thinking the multitude of “best” lists existing on the web are not likely incentivized by other mechanisms besides only what is in the best interest of the general public. In the scenario above I have unknowingly rolled the dice because I did not perform my own further research into these listed providers on this webpage. If I had, I would have discovered that not all of the advertised dog trainers/schools practice the same methodologies to train dogs and this important piece of information is strikingly absent from the blogpost from which I based my decision.
Even though this post claims to provide me, the information seeker, with a quick trustworthy answer to my question about the best place in Calgary to take my new puppy, they have neglected to include a critical piece of information on this topic. There are still dog trainers out there who encourage the use of aversive methods in training, despite much research on the subject overwhelmingly concluding that a force-free and rewards-based training approach is the gold standard for dog training! The blogpost that I based my decision on essentially lumps oranges and apples all together and presents them to me as if each trainer/school on this list are not only apples, but the same type of apples and that they are all equally good choices.
Check out this position statement from the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behaviour on Humane Dog Training to learn more.
When it comes to important decision making, we as consumers are on our own to not take the first thing that Google pulls up for us and run with it, unless of course it's a soup recipe. I recently started trying to learn more about digitally marketing. I'm beginning to understand more about the crazy (almost elusive) world of search engine optimization and it's made me think twice about what I type into the Google search bar. Like I'm sure many of you have, I’ve been badly burned before by online information I took at face value. I’m reminded of that old proverb, “careful what you wish for” … I think sometime in the future a new proverb is going to become popular, “careful what you Google”.
So with all that being said, if you ask for my advice on how to locate “the best dog training school near me” using a search engine, I will say that the number one thing to add to that search are words like “reward-based” and “force-free”. I wish I could tell you that’s all you need to do to ensure you’ll be led down the right “rabbit hole”, but unfortunately, it’s not a magic solution. You may still find compulsion and intimidation-based trainers using words like “positive reinforcement,” “no force,” or “humane” to try and drive people to their website who are searching these words in the hopes of gaining more business. It’s misleading, I know, but until there are regulations in dog training we are on our own to scrutinize providers and regard information generated on page 1 of a Google search with a grain of salt - not as the holy grail.
I highly encourage you to dive deeper into what is important for you and your dog when it comes to training and building a relationship; don’t hang your hat on one Google search. Get in contact with different trainers/schools to determine if their values align with yours and be direct with your questions. If you feel that responses consist mainly of euphemisms, then continue to ask for further details until you can comfortably decide to either sign-up or move on. Fido relies on you alone to make decisions for them that will be in their best interest and increase their well-being